I was sitting in a coffee shop in Beijing Airport waiting for my plane when a red faced airport attendant came up to me and asked,”Are you Mister Rod Denton?” When I replied that I was, he then said,”I have been searching for you. We have been calling your name. You have missed your flight. Your plane has gone without you.” And the reason I missed my flight was that I could not tell the time. I had forgotten to synchronize my watch with Chinese time. I had made a serious mistake and would now have to suffer the inconvenient consequences.
My thesis for this paper is One of the important characteristics of effective leaders is that they can tell the time. For down through the years causes have been won or lost because leaders could or could not tell the time.
But I am not talking about time as we in the west usually refer to time. The Greeks have two words for time.
The first is chronos, from which we derive the word chronological. It refers to measured, quantitative time and we use it when we talk about being on time or wasting time or spending time. The word chronos is mentioned 53 times in the New Testament.
Prior to the second world war, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain coined the chronos phrase rather foolishly – PEACE IN OUR TIME. Ultimately, it would be seen that he was not a person who was good at telling the time.
The second word for time is the one I want to focus on, and it is kairos, which in some ways we don’t really have an English equivalent. It can be translated season, opportune time, a critical time, a defining moment, an open door in time. The word kairos is mentioned 86 times in the New Testament.
Chronos is quantitative time, kairos is qualitative time. Chronos measures minutes and seconds, kairos measures moments.
I am a bit of a numbers man and recently I gave my wife Sue an unexpected card and informed her that on that day we would be celebrating our thirteen thousand days wedding anniversary. That was a chronos statement, but on that day we took time to share all the special kairos moments we had experienced in that period of time.
One of the most important characteristics of leaders is that they can tell the (kairos) time. For within a good leader’s makeup is a leadership gifting that has an intuitive ability to make right decisions based on kairos moments.
An outstanding example in the thirteenth century comes from a critical moment in church history that resulted in devastating consequences.
Kubla Khan, the great Mongolian leader, ruled the largest empire the world had ever seen. It extended from the Pacific Ocean in the east to Poland in the west, to Russia in the north and to India in the south. Mongol warriors were so fierce and determined that they even conquered China in spite of its great wall.
In 1266, the great explorer and adventurer Marco Polo met with Kubla Khan in his capital city. This fierce warrior’s heart was deeply touched by the news of Jesus Christ’s death for the world. So he sent Marco Polo back to Europe with this request to the leaders of Christianity, “Send me one hundred men skilled in your religion……and so I shall be baptised and then all my barons and great men, and then my subjects. And there shall be more Christians here than in your parts.”
And in this kairos moment, the Christian church had been provided with an opportunity to reap an extraordinary harvest that was possibly unprecedented. However, history records that after some years only two missionaries came forward who were willing to endure the hardships necessary to take the Christian message to the great Mongolian empire. But even they turned back after travelling but halfway to their destiny.
They left behind what some would say was the greatest missed opportunity in the history of the church.
The church in the thirteenth century could not tell the time and Kubla Khan turned to Tibetan Bhuddists and invited them to spread their religion throughout his empire. At one point, more than half the men in the nation were Bhuddist monks.
So let me ask you, have you learned to tell the (kairos) time, the time that helps you take advantages of opportunities and defining moments, even when they come at inconvenient, unexpected and unplanned moments?
Perhaps the best model for us of living on kairos time was Jesus.
Regarding his birth we read, “When the time (kairos) had fully come, God sent his son.” (Galations 4:4)
Regarding his death we read, “At just the right time (kairos) when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
Regarding his second coming we read, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time (kairos) will come.” (Mark 13:33)
Great writers have helped us define kairos time.
King Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” He went on to illustrate:
“A time to tear down and a time to build
A time to keep and a time to throw away
A time to be silent and a time to speak
A time for war and a time for peace……”(Ecclesiastes 3:1-7)
William Shakespeare defined kairos in his play, Julius Caesar (Act 4 Scene3 Line 215) when he wrote:
“The enemy increaseth every day,
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a time (kairos) in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea we are now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.”
Notice, it is not the convenience of the moment but the opportunity that is birthed in the moment that makes it a defining moment, and then the willingness to pay the price to get involved.
The writers can define kairos, but it is only the leader that can identify and create the kairos moments.
In his annual message to congress on the first of December 1862, Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” (what got us here will not get us where we want to go.) “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. And our case is now, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves” (set ourselves free form the past) “and then we shall save our country.”
If ever there was a time, it is today that leaders with a kairos cutting edge are needed. People who will “take the current while it serves”. It is interesting that the word opportunity – ob portu – comes from “flood tide”.
The greatest king in the Old Testament, king David, understood the need for kairos leaders. Amongst his mighty men were the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what to do.” ( a great definition of kairos leadership)
Could it be that we live in a moment of history that is pregnant with kairos moments which require kairos leaders to be raised up who understand the kairos times and know what to do?
In summary, what we can say is that kairos moments :
- usually come at unexpected, unprecedented and even inconvenient moments in time.
- must be taken when the window of opportunity appears or be lost, perhaps forever.
- often reveal leaders of little reputation to that point in time, but leaders who have been prepared through years of smaller personal kairos moments.
- require leaders who understand the times and know what to do and who are willing to pay the necessary price.
- require leaders who recognise that what brought us here will not necessarily get us to where we need to go.
- require leaders with perspective who see things that others don’t see.
- require leaders who have first learned to lead themselves which qualifies them to lead others.
So, can you tell the time?
Perhaps the challenging words of Jesus to the people of his day can equally be a challenge to us.
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” Luke 12:54-56
They couldn’t tell the time and they paid a great price for it. What might Jesus say to you and me today?